Citizen Science in New England

SESSION G: Citizen Science in New England: Exploring Innovations in Collaborative Resource Management, Education, and Research

Session Co-Chairs:
Karen Wilson, University of Southern Maine
Bridie McGreavy, New England Sustainability Consortium

Session Description

This session seeks to bring together people working in different organizations (academic, state, and non-governmental) to share insights about innovations in citizen science. We encourage a diversity of perspectives, and are particularly interested in new technologies for monitoring and communication that enhance citizen science capacities for data collection, quality assurance, and sharing across broad geographic areas. We are interested in presentations that combine practical suggestions for program development using new technologies with research applications and findings. We hope this session will serve as a catalyst for new and expanded collaborations among participants, both presenters and audience members, and improve the network of people and organizations who use citizen science in their work in New England and beyond.

Presentations Available

Session Overview

8:30-8:55 am
Citizen Science and Natural Resource Governance: Applying a Resilience Framework to Vernal Pool Policy Innovation
Bridie McGreavy, New England Sustainability Consortium
Aram Calhoun, Ecology & Environmental Sciences Program

In this oral presentation, we apply a resilience lens to a 15-year case study of citizen science and vernal pool regulation in Maine, USA. We describe how citizen science improved adaptive capacities for innovative policies related to vernal pool regulation. We identified four core elements associated with the citizen science program that promoted adaptive capacities including how citizen science efforts: (1) generated knowledge about the system; (2) enhanced networks across scales and communities of expertise; (3) promoted multiple forms of leadership for program and policy development; and (4) allowed the identification of and capacity to act within narrow windows of opportunity. If citizen science program leaders intend to promote adaptive governance and social-ecological systems resilience, we recommend that they create a system for internal project evaluation and learning; use the citizen science collected data in scientific publications; encourage the emergence of diverse forms of leadership; pursue resources for program sustainability; and pay close attention to how informal network characteristics and leader promote program flexibility and innovation over time. Thus, through this presentation we intend to highlight the value of resilience thinking for citizen science program design and research applications.

9:00-9:25 am
Sentinel Forest: A Case for Deploying Remote Ground-based Environmental Sensor Networks for Monitoring Ecological Change within Forested Watersheds
Joseph K. Staples, University of Southern Maine

In this presentation I will summarize ongoing efforts by the Department of Environmental Science & Policy at University of Southern Maine (USM) and the USDA Forest Service to establish a remotely monitored publically accessible research forest on the USM Gorham campus. The site is located in the upper reaches of the Tannery Brook watershed and is dominated by eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr. and eastern white pine (Pinus Strobus L.). The design of the USM research forest is based on the ongoing USDA Forest Service Smart Forest initiative that seeks to provide access to real-time environmental sensor data online. Current sensors deployed in the USM site include air temperature, precipitation, relative humidity, wind speed, light intensity, soil temperature, and moisture. Potential uses of the USM research forest include education, public outreach, and the illustration of how forests may serve as sentinel ecosystems for monitoring the influence of climate related stressors on water quality in headwater systems and other downstream resources. Here I present a case for extending the concept of sentinel ecosystems beyond select aquatic, marine, or wetland systems to include terrestrial ecosystems.

9:30-9:55 am
Volunteer River Herring Monitoring Programs in Maine and Massachusetts: Lessons Learned about Running Volunteer Programs and Citizen Scientists’ Monitoring Experiences
Karen H. Bieluch, Dartmouth College
Jason Smith, University of Southern Maine

Sustaining Maine’s (ME) and Massachusett’s (MA) river fisheries involves participation of diverse actors, including fishers, scientists, citizen scientists, nonprofitss, and local, state, and federal managers. River herring (alewife and blue back herring), anadromous species that move annually between marine and freshwater, intersect with multiple stakeholders because humans interact with them on and off-shore. citizen scientists play an important role in gathering data about the fishery to inform river herring restoration and management. However, facilitating volunteer programs that collect fisheries data, including recruiting and retaining volunteers, is complicated. In 2014, researchers explored topics most relevant to running volunteer programs and the attitudes of volunteers. Project activities included interviewing river herring monitoring coordinators from ME and MA to discover common best management practices and distributing an online survey to volunteers to gauge motivations and barriers to citizen science participation. Initial results show that coordinator-volunteer communication throughout the monitoring season and making monitoring fun and easy are critical to the immediate and continued success of a program. Survey results showed that volunteers are motivated to participate because they are concerned with protecting their local ecosystems and want to contribute to and improve management of it; volunteers also were positive about their ability to affect management and conservation through volunteering. A case-study count was established in southern Maine that will continue into 2015 to apply survey and interview lessons. An exploratory study involving interviews and participant observation will be conducted at the case-study run to assess volunteer experiences pre- and post-program changes.

10:00-10:25 am
Citizen Lake Science in Maine
Scott Williams, Roberta Hill; Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program

Maine has some of the cleanest, clearest lakes in North America; it also has one of the oldest and most robust statewide citizen-based lake monitoring programs in the US.   Since 1971, the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program has trained thousands of volunteers to monitor a wide range of indicators of water quality, assess watershed health and function, and screen lakes for invasive aquatic plants and animals.  Much of what is known about Maine lakes has been directly derived from data collected by VLMP citizen lake scientists.

Roberta and Scott will share the VLMP’s recipe for success, including a look at the organization’s innovative decentralized-leadership structure and other strategies used to ensure continued program growth and sustainability in the midst of challenges.   They will also highlight some of the ways in which VLMP’s citizen lake scientists have become integral to cutting-edge lake research in our state.

1:30-1:55 pm
MIMIC: Using Citizen Scientists to Monitor the Spread of Marine Invasive Species in the Gulf of Maine
Jeremy Miller, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
Adrienne Pappal, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management

The Marine Invader Monitoring and Information Collaborative (MIMIC) is a network of trained volunteers and scientists who monitor marine invasive species throughout the northeastern United States. MIMIC is coordinated by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel, and local monitoring organizations that recruit and train volunteers, like the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. The purpose is to detect newly-introduced species as well as changes in the abundance and distribution of established non-native species. MIMIC provides an opportunity for the general public to: (1) actively participate in an invasive species early-detection network, (2) identify new marine invaders before they spread, and (3) improve our understanding of the behavior of established invaders. Volunteers range from school-aged children to seniors and all are trained in an adapted visual rapid assessment protocol and proper identification of marine invertebrate species before participation in the field. Monitoring occurs monthly from June through October at 8 established sites from York to Portland, ME. Data are uploaded to the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS) where they are available to scientists and managers. A total of 243 species reports have been documented so far. Both host organizations and volunteers benefit from this shared experience as valuable biological data is collected in and around the host organizations boundaries and volunteers are educated about the impacts of invasive species and how they can help stop the spread of these invaders.

2:00-2:25 pm
Increasing capacity for science: use of collaborative networks for a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts
Alyson Eberhardt
, Malin Clyde, UNH Cooperative Extension & NH Sea Grant

Many citizen science efforts are increasing capacity to do science through crowd-sourcing and technology innovations. We propose that citizen science programs can also increase capacity through investments in collaboration among organizations, volunteers, and program staff. Effective citizen science programs require staff time, strong communication with volunteers, and adequate funding. While collaboration can be time-intensive, it can be a critical tool for increasing the capacity of organizations and researchers to answer scientific questions, collect data, and get work done. We describe two related collaborative networks being employed at the University of New Hampshire to expand research capacity, increase pools of trained volunteers, and improve science and stewardship outcomes among a diverse group of partner organizations in New Hampshire and beyond. The Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) program provides an interface where volunteers are trained and matched with researchers to work on coastal research projects. By relying on one citizen science coordinator to support many, diverse projects this “time-share” citizen science model allows local scientists to stretch limited financial support and capacity while creating a dynamic community of citizen volunteers. The Stewardship Network: New England (The Network) is a broader-scale effort of which CRV is a collaborating partner. The Network mobilizes volunteers to care for and study lands and waters in and around New Hampshire. Collaborating with over 75 different partner organizations since its launch in 2014, the Network provides a collective volunteer management system for partners, including an online calendar, registration system, weekly e-bulletins, and opportunities to share student interns across organizations.

3:00-3:25 pm
Getting To Know Your Groundwater: Results From 10 Years of GET WET!
John Peckenham
, Senator George J. Mitchell Center, University of Maine
Teresa Thornton, Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches

The Groundwater Education Through Water Evaluation and Testing (GET WET!) project was started 10 years ago to evaluate the effects of sand and gravel mining on private wells. Since that time the project has been used to study local drinking water problems in rural communities throughout New England, New York, and Florida. This project has produced a variety of outcomes and outputs. This includes the analysis of more than 1,500 individual water well samples and several analyses of how the citizen-science process works. We will present a summary results that show how the GET WET! project has built trust and water networks in communities; produced spatial and temporal maps of local groundwater quality; established local groundwater monitoring networks; provided a mechanism to increase groundwater awareness; provided a connection between schools and communities; and established a STEM pathway for K-12 students. We will also describe the elements needed to make this project work in different settings.

3:30-3:55 pm
Drawing Lessons from Diverse Citizen Science Efforts
Linda Silka, University of Maine

Sufficient citizen science now exists that this is an opportune time to take a measure of the lessons that are emerging that may be applicable to Maine. Emerging lessons speak to questions such as: ‘How are citizen science efforts being organized and carried out?’ ‘What topics have been successfully studied through citizen science?’ ‘What problems seem to lend themselves to a citizen science approach?’ ‘Which technologies are being adopted and which seem to be the most helpful?’ ‘What makes some citizen science efforts more effective than others?’ and ‘What barriers stand in the way of effective citizen science and how are these barriers being overcome?’ This presentation will briefly summarize lessons from seven diverse citizen science initiatives that vary in topic, approach, scope, goals, and scale and that are taking place in cities (Milwaukee and New Orleans), states (Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin), and countries (Ecuador and Peru). The emphasis will be on what we can learn that could be useful to Maine.